See You In September: You Have Homework

Woodcut of a waterfall.

I’m taking a break until September. On a several-state tour of some of our several states. When I come back, my mind will be a raging torrent of ideas, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.

In the meantime, your homework is:

Once you’ve done your homework, you may:

See you in September!





Darwinism, Democracy, and Race

Book cover for Darwinism, Democracy, and Race

This is the cover of my new book, just published with David Depew, the noted philospher of biology.  Writing a book with David has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my academic career. It has been a real pleasure to produce this book with him and I’m very proud of our work. Get your copy today!

Publisher’s Description:

Darwinism, Democracy, and Race examines the development and defence of an argument that arose at the boundary between anthropology and evolutionary biology in twentieth-century America. In its fully articulated form, this argument simultaneously discredited scientific racism and defended free human agency in Darwinian terms.

The volume is timely because it gives readers a key to assessing contemporary debates about the biology of race. By working across disciplinary lines, the book’s focal figures–the anthropologist Franz Boas, the cultural anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, and the physical anthropologist Sherwood Washburn–found increasingly persuasive ways of cutting between genetic determinist and social constructionist views of race by grounding Boas’s racially egalitarian, culturally relativistic, and democratically pluralistic ethic in a distinctive version of the genetic theory of natural selection. Collaborators in making and defending this argument included Ashley Montagu, Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Lewontin.

Darwinism, Democracy, and Race will appeal to advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and academics interested in subjects including Philosophy, Critical Race Theory, Sociology of Race, History of Biology and Anthropology, and Rhetoric of Science.

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“They Wanted to Protest the Taking Down of a Statue”

Drawing of a rat with the legend

Getting rid of racism is much harder with Trump as President

Is it even newsworthy that Trump’s press conference about Charlottesville was misleading and disingenuous? Probably not. Trump is so dishonest that it is no longer an interesting question that he mislead us but rather to ask how and to what end he lied. Sometimes, of course, the answer seems to be “because he felt like it” or “because he is so unconcerned with truth that he doesn’t even know he’s lying anymore.” I’m not even going to bother with the nonsense about “both sides do it,” I’ll leave that to Driftglass. I’m more interested in Trump’s challenge to a reporter who dared ask him a question:

When you say the alt-right, define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead. Define it for me, come on, let’s go.

Trump claims he “never spoke to Mr. Bannon about” Charlottesville. Maybe when he bothers to do so, he can ask him to define “alt right” since Bannon knows all about it. Heck, he even published a whole guide about defining the alt right. Maybe an aide can make a pretty picture book about it so President Pop-Up-Book can understand it.

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Charlottesville and Racism

In 1998, when he was 23 years old, John William King and two friends beat an African-American man, James Byrd, Jr., behind a convenience store. King was the one who used a baseball bat. They then chained Mr. Byrd behind their truck and dragged him for 3 miles. The pathologist report, once they had reassembled the 81 pieces of Mr. Byrd’s body, told the court that the evidence indicated Mr. Byrd was alive for most of the dragging since the remains indicated he tried desperately to protect himself.  John William King, and his friends, were found guilty. At his sentencing, King issued a statement:

Though I remain adamant about my innocence, it’s been obvious from the beginning that this community would get what they desire; so I’ll close with the words of Francis Yockey: “The promise of success is with the man who is determined to die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly.”

King is still on death row awaiting execution, forgotten by all. If he had done those actions even thirty years previously, he’s probably still be walking among us, a free man.

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Arguing With Libertarians

A picture of George the Pug

George the Pug

I’m spending the next few days dogsitting George the Pug (pictured above). Claire Potter has written a nice and insightful review of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains over at Public Seminar. I spent the evening playing fetch with the tireless George and responding to criticisms of Potter’s piece by Professors David E. Bernstein and Phil Magness. I wrote some rather lengthy comments, patted myself on the back for a job well done, and George and I turned in for the night.  This morning I woke up and found the the Disqus commenting system had marked those two lengthy comments as “spam” and didn’t post them. Maybe I should have left out the part about how you can make thousands of dollars from your home?

At any rate, I’m going to post them here just to get them out in public. I recommend you go read Potter’s review and the comments if you feel like you’ve been dropped in halfway  through the movie.

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The White Ignorance of Milton Friedman

Line drawing of a black and white man looking at each other laid over the word

White people have the luxury of not thinking about race if they don’t want to. Marginalized people, on the other hand, are forced to think about their own oppression all the time if they want to get by in the world. One way to think about this luxury is what philosopher Charles Mills calls “white ignorance.” In scholarship, one way the white ignorance is displayed is by white scholars, whom Critical Race Theorist Richard Delgado called “imperial scholars,” who ignore the scholarship of people of color. The poster child for white ignorance may well be Milton Friedman.

Milton Friedman was one of the most famous economists of the twentieth century. The leading light of the “Chicago School of Economics,” the most influential economics department in the world, Nobel prize-winner in Economics in 1976. If there were an All-Star team of economists, Friedman would be in the starting line-up. My view of him was nicely summarized by Murray Rothbard in 1964:  “I am getting pretty p.o.’ed at the influence of that little bastard anyway; he is the No.1 respectable right-wing economist in Newsweek and Business Week, and Goldwater’s chief economic theoretician.” (Rothbard to James Martin, Martin Papers, University of Wyoming).

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School Vouchers, James Buchanan, and Segregation

A Good Case can be Made That He Was

Line drawing of an old-fashioned school house

With our new Education Secretary, Betsy Devos the idea of moving away from public schools via vouchers for private schools is once again in the news. Many feel there are insufficient safeguards against discrimination in many voucher programs. An important bit of history is that the notion of privatizing school has its roots in the battle to preserve racial segregation in the era of “massive resistance.” When the Center for American Progress (CAP) pointed this out, the libertarian Cato Institute issued a rather weak response.  Libertarians, I think, like to ignore the rather sad history of their movement’s commitment to racial justice.

The CAP report focuses on Prince Edward County, Virginia. This story is related to  James M. Buchanan, the subject of Nancy Maclean’s Democracy in Chains.  The libertarian right have attacked this book fiercely . Here is what I find notable about many of the criticisms of her book. They pounce on certain words (she says “lodestar!”),  her interpretations of some of the quotations she cites, minor incidents of Buchanan’s career, or some minutia of Buchanan’s “public choice theory.”  Rhetorician Kenneth Burke nailed this strategy in the 1950s in his essay, “On the Art of Debunking:

It would seem they are no longer seeking good arguments; rather they are seeking any arguments, if only there be enough of them to keep running through the headlines, an avalanche of arguments, condemnations, prophecies of dire calamity, “statistical proofs,” pronouncements by private and institutional “authorities,” a barrage, a snowing under, a purely quantitative mode of propaganda, Are there no eagles among their utterances? Very well, let them be instead a swarm of mosquitoes. Before you could refute this morning’s, there is a new batch out this afternoon.

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Atheism and Racism

The New Atheists and the Alt-Right

A church in shambles

I’ve never liked the so-called “New Atheists,” those inspired by the “Four Horsemen” of Atheism: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens.  When writing about atheism, those four have never impressed me as particularly deep thinkers. My co-author and I have a new book coming out soon that takes exception to the version of Darwinism put forth by Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins.  I lost a great deal of respect for the late Christopher Hitchens when he embraced Bush’s Iraq war. And Sam Harris is, in my opinion, a shallow and unimpressive thinker who feeds the bigotry of thinkers who are even shallower and unimpressiver then he is.

I mostly never liked them because of Jennifer Michael Hecht.  I got to know Jennifer a bit when I reprinted an essay of her’s in a volume I edited.  About the time those men in the previous paragraph started making waves, Jennifer published Doubt: A History a deeply-researched, wonderfully-written study of the history of those who have doubted the existence of God. While Hitchens and Harris were repackaging David Hume for the umpteenth time, and Dennett and Dawkins were offering their cramped understanding of Darwinism (as if it had anything to do with the existence of God), Jennifer’s wonderfully original contribution to atheism was swept aside, perhaps because she was a woman (which would not be surprising, given the misogyny in the movement), perhaps because she doesn’t call her intellectual opponents irrational or stupid. Whatever the reason, I always thought the movement chose third-rate thinkers when they could have chosen a first-rate one.

Phil Torres, in a recent post over at Salon, notes the unsettling similarities between the views of some of the so-called “New Atheists,” and the Alt-Right. His drophead nicely summarized the piece: “A movement supposedly committed to science and reason has decayed into racism, misogyny and intolerance.” Torres documents the increasing hostility the movement has towards feminism and the embrace of the “scientific” proof of an innate difference in intelligence between white and black people. All of this with a heaping dose of Islamaphobia that would make any alt-rightist happy.

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Reflections on Libertarianism and Racism

When can we say a libertarian was a racist?

Picture of a Lighthouse

I’m afraid my engagement with Nancy MacLean’s critics generated more heat than light. Some things I wrote were misunderstood which must mean I did not state them clearly enough. This post is to engage some issues about how we can make inferences on the basis of historical evidence, and perhaps throw some reflected light on the ongoing debate about Democracy in Chains.

Here is the basic argument I hope to make in the book I am writing:

My book will explore how two groups, which for convenience I will call the “libertarian right” and the “racist right”, grew in the postwar U.S. This is a story of mirror-image twins. Both libertarians and the racist right shared the same values but held them in a reversed hierarchy. Libertarians wanted a society free of all government coercion: one consequence of such a society would be that “racially pure” enclaves would arise as people exercised their free individual choices. For them, the libertarian society was the goal; racial enclaves were simply byproducts. The racist right, by contrast, desired “racially pure” enclaves and found the libertarian voice the most effective in pushing their political agenda. Forming racial enclaves was the goal; the libertarian society was simply a byproduct.

A couple of caveats: I certainly do not mean to include all libertarians; I realize that libertarians come in all stripes. I am looking at specific people, not the varied ideologies and movements that claim the title “Libertarian.”  Second, by “racist right” I refer to those folks usually too noxious for William F. Buckley and National Review. They were usually funded by, or somehow associated with, Willis Carto. A good example of this is Revilo P. Oliver and his gradual march out of respectability in these years. My work is motivated by the idea that, with the rise of the “alt-right,” we see those racist ideologies marching back into some kind of respectability, usually using libertarian language, and sometimes aided by people who claim to be libertarians.

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Libertarian Titles: A Top Ten List

My dear wife (married 31 years this coming August!) told me that as a child she used to love to be in a bookstore or a library and just walk down the aisles and read the book titles. Not open the books. Not read the books. She just enjoyed reading the titles. If you are person who just enjoys reading book titles it is hard to go wrong reading libertarian titles. They may offer extremely questionable answers to society’s problems, they may have morally suspect fellow-travelers, they may show a near-complete insensitivity to the most vulnerable among us, but damn they can write a nice book title. As one who struggles with writing even a passable title, I can only gaze in wonder. There are Mozarts in the world and I will always be Salieri. You know the old saying: “Those who can compose a great book titles compose great book titles; those who can’t compose lists of other people’s great book titles.” What? It is too a saying! Shut up.

Libertarians have great titles because they manage to evoke the core of their ideology in very few words. The language they use is evocative, stirring up emotions while, somehow, simultaneously giving the appearance of cold rationality.

A couple things to keep in mind: first, this is not a list of great libertarian books  (are there any?), it is a list of great libertarian book titles. I’m hardly qualified to give you a list of the books you should read to become a libertarian, but I love these titles. Second, no Ayn Rand titles. Atlas Shrugged may or may not be a good title, but I’m kicking her out of the competition because I’m arbitrary and capricious and narrow-minded.

With all that in mind, I offer to you a Top Ten List of great libertarian book titles.

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